Editor’s note: It was widely reported last week that Meryl Streep had defended an all-white film festival by saying, “we’re all Africans, really.” Audio from the event confirms that the remark was taken out of context. The following piece has been corrected to reflect that fact.
Hollywood icon Meryl Streep was lambasted on social media last week for allegedly defending an all-white panel at the Berlin International Film Festival. Except she never did and she was never directly asked about it.
Several widely shared reports incorrectly attributed answers she gave to different questions about the role of women’s rights in the festival’s history and her perspectives on Arab films. “The thing that I’ve noticed is that there is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture. And, after all, we’re all from Africa originally; we’re all Berliners, we’re all Africans, really,” she said.
It was that last remark that lit a firestorm, with many reporters and social media users slamming the three-time Academy Award winner for cultural insensitivity, especially in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
The seven-member jury, on which Streep is serving, determines the winners of the prestigious Golden Bear, and is all white. However, the festival jury does include three women in addition to Streep: French photographer Brigitte Lacombe, Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher and Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska.
In the aftermath of the out of context “We’re all Africans really” quote, numerous social media users condemned Streep as ignorant and symbolic of the problem with white privilege:
And while the rush to judgment may have been misguided, it does underline how raw emotions are around issues of representation within the film industry,
For instance, this is not the first racial controversy to creep up with Streep. Last fall, she was was widely ridiculed for appearing in an ad campaign for her women’s rights film “Suffragette,” which featured her (and several of her co-stars) wearing a T-shirt which read: “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”
The quote came from British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, but many observers felt that the photo op proved tone deaf.
“The presence of the words ‘rebel’ and ‘slave’ alone should have had Meryl Streep picking up a history book first,” Jamil Smith, a senior editor of The New Republic, wrote at the time. “More black folks around Meryl Streep and company may have helped, sure, but that can’t be the excuse. There’s a curiosity lacking there.”
In an interview with MSNBC’s Irin Carmon last October, the film’s producer Alison Owen conceded that the “furor” over the T-shirts did take her by surprise. She said that the filmmakers did extensive research into the role of women of color in the British suffragette movement and decided that in order to avoid “tokenism” there were none prominently featured in the film. “We also understand the sensitivities in the U.S. and we’re glad that it provoked a discourse,” Owen said at the time.